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You can’t always avoid the dreaded head cold, but there are ways you can help boost your immune system to keep your body strong and prepared to fight! But don’t fall for over the counter promises. Believe it or not, just eating healthy and smart can go a long way in helping you prevent illness this winter.

Here’s six foods to help fight colds.

Garlic: The allicin in garlic helps fight bacteria and viruses. You’ll need to increase your intake if you are starting to get sick.

If you don’t like the taste, you can always supplement with garlic extract. Another great way to use garlic is to crush a garlic clove into some honey and swallow the honey without chewing – it’ll help you avoid garlic breath!

Fish/Shellfish: These foods are high in selenium and omega-3 fats, which fight inflammation and support the health of your white blood cells. Avoid fried fish if possible, and purchase wild-caught fish because they have the omega-3 you’ll need to ward off a cold.

Tea: Get your caffeine fix and help fight infection too. Black and green teas have been shown to increase interferon, a protein that helps fight viruses, in your blood. Steep a tea bag in hot water rather than buy prepared bottled tea drinks with lots of added sugar.

Beef: Many people don’t get enough zinc in their diets, and even being a little low in zinc can increase your risk of infection. Just 3oz of lean beef, pork or poultry can provide 30 percent of your daily value of zinc. Just remember to avoid fried versions and opt for pasture-raised meat when possible to increase your intake of healthy fats and nutrients contained in those meats.

Try this recipe for Slow Cooked Beef Stew to increase the protein and zinc in your diet.

Sweet Potatoes: These tasty root vegetables are a healthier alternative to white potatoes. They provide substantial amounts of vitamin A, which is extremely important for your immune system. It also plays an important role in connective tissue formation, which keeps your skin supple and healthy. Remember that your skin is an important protective barrier against bacteria and infections. Learn to love this naturally sweet veggie without added sugar!

Now that you know what foods will help you stay healthy, what’s the number one thing you should avoid eating during the cold winter months?

Sugar: Well, not eating more of it. Eating less of it! Sugar suppresses your immune system for hours after you eat it preventing your white blood cells from attacking invaders and leaving you prone to illness, especially if something is circulating around the office. When you’re actually sick, sugar can worsen symptoms or prolong the infection.

Even drinking smoothies and juices in excess can contribute to the problem, since many have added sugar. If you’re looking to get more vitamin C, eat a whole orange instead of drinking the juice. Orange juice is more concentrated and processed, which means it contains less vitamin C than the fruit itself. Plus you get more fiber as an added benefit the additional benefit of fiber from the fruit.

Add getting adequate sleep, hydration, and exercise to the mix, and you’ll be much less likely to spend the winter months with a cold.

[Image: Shutterstock]

Veronica Verhoff

About Veronica Verhoff

Veronica is our BCBSNC's onsite nutritionist who helps people address many health concerns, such as allergies, high cholesterol, diabetes and weight management. Her passion for nutrition led her to teach biochemistry at the graduate level. She takes time to explain how different foods play a role in your ability to lose weight and prevent disease. She has worked alongside many physicians and with people of all sizes and walks of life. She is committed to helping people achieve their goals. MPH, RD, LDN – Registered Dietitian